One of the most populous and wide ranging animal in North America, the beaver has been widely disparaged as a nuisance animal, but of course it isn’t. Instead it is an animal critical to maintain a healthy wetlands environment and today is considered a keystone species whose existence and work is necessary for the survival of many other species. One has to wonder why it took hundreds of years for European immigrants to realize this. Beaver create ecosystems that enhance the environment by preventing erosion, raising water tables, cooling water in ponds, building nutrient rich soil, creating fish spawning grounds, and generally increasing the diversity of wild life in any given location. There’s no surprise that its waterproof and luxurious pelt would have been highly sought after, but the attempts to simply eradicate the beaver entirely seem ludicrous.
As is often the case, Native Americans were more understanding of the beaver and its importance to the environment and saw this animal as symbol of productivity, creativity, and cooperation. But Native Americans were not trying to shape the land to suit their needs as the colonial settlers were. For Europeans the Beaver’s vast swampy meadows were an impediment to travel and covered what could become open farm and grazing land.
Today, we don’t need to beaver pelts for warmth and weather resistance, but we do need them to do their magic in restoring and maintaining diverse wildlife habitats. However, their amazing productivity and engineering skills often come into conflict with the modern world of roads and farm fields, fast flowing creeks and low lying lawns. Last summer, I had the combined joy and consternation of a family of beavers moving in on a creek flowing along our property and creating six new dams in only a few months. It quickly became evident that left unchecked they would flood the town road, my driveway and lower fields, and potentially even the septic system. So my need to be educated about beavers ramped up quickly.
I started with contacting my local Board of Health regarding the threat to the septic system, the Highway Department regarding the threat to the road, and the Conservation Commission regarding wetlands issues and Fish and Wildlife for a broader take. Because it was a larger issue then just the road undermining, the highway department preferred that I take the lead on this, so I did. The Board of Health can issue a 10 day emergency permit which allows for trapping of the beavers (if not agricultural land, must be done by a licensed trapper), breaching of the dams, or the installation of the water-flow control devices per the Conservation Commission specifications. Clearly the first two options are very short term. Trapping the beavers probably gives you a respite of a few months’ or a year or two before beaver’s come back, but my wife said that was not an option in any case. Breaching the dam only works for one day before the beavers have it repaired (it’s amazing what they can get done overnight), but the third option seemed to me like a permanent solution that allowed the beavers to stay on and work to improve the property, but also set some restrictions on them that prevented the conflicting problems with the public and private usage aspects.
The use of water-flow control devices is a fairly new way to work with beavers and the concept was pioneered by Skip Lisle in Grafton, Vermont. His way of installing a protected flow pipe system he calls Beaver Deceiver™ and he has even trademarked this name. The concept is pretty simple though with the installation of a pipe through a hole in the beaver dam to regulate the water height of the upstream pond. The trick is to hide the intake end of the pipe so the beavers can get to it and block it. This is done with fencing to keep the beavers away, but an important aspect is also to make the water intake run quietly as beavers are strongly drawn to the sound of running water.
The process of getting permission for a long term change to a wetlands system with the installation of water control pipes and the corresponding need to occasional do cleaning and repairs means that I needed both a DEP permit and approval by the Conservation Commission. This process is was pretty easy and inexpensive, but did take some legwork. It is the preferred method by all the state agencies involved so the permitting agencies were very helpful. With the aid of a GPS device (iPhone) and Google Maps I was able to draw up simple plans for the installation. I also enlisted the help of Mike Callahan from Beaver Solutions in Southampton, MA. He was trained by Skip Lisle and works full time as a beaver control specialist. All the pieces came together over the course of a few weeks and I was ready to install my beaver control system. James Sullivan, Chair of the Buckland Conservation Commission also forward me a grant notice from the MSPCA that would help pay for the installation of water level control devices. I applied for this grant and was awarded enough money to cover most of the cost of materials and hiring Mike Callahan for a day to help me install the pipes and construct the associated pipe protective cages.
The water flow level control system has been in place for a year now and is working nicely. I had to do a clean out of leaves from the intake end this fall, but other then that they have just worked. They allow enough water to flow through the dam the water stays at a level allowing the beavers enough depth, but prevents flooding of my property and the road. Since then the beaver family has grown and this fall they built another dam further up in the woods which doesn’t cause any issues of concern with my property. I put up a wildlife camera and got some great videos of them working away at night, and we’ve already seen that the beaver ponds have greatly increased the frog population and even brought it nesting pairs of mallards and wood ducks. We look forward to working with our fur bearing neighbors to create a landscape that grows richer and more productive over the coming years.